The parents of Kaitlyn Duffy, the Great Bridge High School senior killed by an accused drunk driver this spring, have filed a $30 million lawsuit against the driver and his employer, Great Bridge Furniture.
The suit claims Jerode Demetrius Johnson was negligent for driving recklessly and under the influence on May 19, causing a head-on collision that killed Duffy, 18. The crash critically injured her friend, Sabrina Mundorff.
The wrongful death suit also accuses the furniture store of negligence for hiring and retaining Johnson and entrusting him to drive the box truck.
The suit, filed Dec. 1 in Circuit Court, seeks $10 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.
“This is a horrific, tragic loss to the family,” said Michelle McCracken, an attorney for Tammy and Scott Duffy, Kaitlyn’s parents. “They are suffering and continue to suffer.”
Today would have been Duffy’s 19th birthday, she said.
The owner of Great Bridge Furniture did not respond to a phone call seeking comment Friday. From jail, Johnson declined an interview request.
Johnson, 31, faces numerous charges – including DUI manslaughter – in an ongoing criminal case in Virginia Beach, where the crash occurred. The lawsuit is filed in Chesapeake, where the Duffys live and Great Bridge Furniture is located.
According to the suit and prior testimony, Johnson was driving erratically that day – swerving, tailgating and running off the road. He crossed the double yellow lines into oncoming traffic on Indian River Road, striking Duffy’s SUV, a witness testified at a preliminary hearing.
Johnson also is accused of fleeing the scene. He had a history of drug and alcohol abuse and was driving on a revoked or suspended license, the suit says.
He was seen trying to get rid of cocaine right after the crash, and the drug was detected in his system, according to testimony and the suit. A toxicologist previously testified Johnson had a blood alcohol content of 0.10 to 0.11 several hours later, an amount that would have been closer to 0.12 to 0.16 when he crashed. The legal limit for driving is 0.08.
Johnson has prior convictions including possession of a controlled substance, driving on a suspended license, being drunk in public and firing a gun in public, records show. At the time of the wreck, he was facing another revoked license count and a possession of marijuana charge.
The lawsuit alleges the furniture store received complaints about Johnson’s driving and intoxication prior to the deadly crash. After the wreck, “verification of such complaints” were posted to the store’s social media pages and have since been deleted, the suit claims.
The suit also says Johnson and the furniture store knew or should have known that the truck had “mechanical and/or equipment deficiencies,” making it unsafe for driving.